LANSING — Tension mounted at Thursday's Michigan Capitol demonstration about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's shutdown orders when two protesters fought over a noose display, and police confiscated an ax.
A brief skirmish occurred when some protesters objected to another demonstrator's display of a doll with a noose around its neck, along with an American flag, witnesses said.
Other protesters objected to the noose display, worried it would depict the group as violent, protester Katie Rogowicz said.
A person snatched the flag away from the man and, when he tried to retrieve it, another protester pushed him to the ground, Rogowicz said.
“That wasn’t right,” she said about the actions against the man. “He has the right to do it.”
An individual involved in the incident had an ax that was given to law enforcement, police said. No one was injured.
Michigan State Police described the incident in a tweet as a fight in which "one demonstrator tried to take a sign out of another demonstrator's hand. ... The victim is a 60-year-old male." No arrests were made, police said.
A dozen State Police troopers — some on foot and others on bikes — responded to the encounter on the Capitol lawn by forming a protective phalanx as they escorted one demonstrator into the Capitol building.
The crowd yelled at the police.
“Who is paying you?” one person yelled.
“Arrest the governor,” another said.
The confrontation occurred as thunder rumbled and lightning forked over the state Capitol, where about 300 protesters in rain gear gathered on the lawn to oppose the Democratic governor's executive orders.
Wearing a white poncho and carrying a firearm, Chris Ladyman of Rockford returned for the Thursday protest after participating in the April 30 rally as well.
The national attention the first protest garnered made the state Capitol "the spearhead of the world in terms of our liberty," the 45-year-old Rockford man said.
"Just as this coronavirus spreads so can liberty,” Ladyman said. "All this lockdown is teaching us is that liberty can spread just as much as fear."
Michigan United for Liberty organized the protest in front of the Capitol, Whitmer's office and the office of Attorney General Dana Nessel. The group said it plans to convey to lawmakers and state officials through its "Judgment Day" protest that residents "will passionately defend our freedom and prosperity."
Members of the Michigan Liberty Militia were also in attendance, among the individuals openly carrying guns on the Capitol lawn during the event. State officials are currently debating whether to continue to allow guns in the Capitol building.
"It’s very simple. It’s a right," said Phil Robinson of Barry County, a member of the militia. "Nobody has the ability to take away a right."
"That is our house. That is the people’s house," Robinson said during an interview as the rally continued. "It’s no different than me being at my house open carrying.”
A few protesters wore masks, but most didn’t. Some stood apart, but most people huddled together. Motorists honked their horns in support as they drove past.
The event started at 9 a.m. Heavy rain began falling on the event after 10 a.m.
Christina Jankauskas and her mother, Karen, of Macomb Township, said they want more transparency from the governor and an end to the stay-home order. Karen, 70, participated in the April 30 protest as well.
"I’m tired of this woman putting us on lockdown,"said Christina, 52. "We aren’t prisoners. We are constituents.”
Among the signs the demonstrators held were one that showed Whitmer with an Adolf Hitler mustache.
“Tyranny has a face,” it read.
Another sign said, "Whitmer is the virus."
Brian McIntosh, 50, of Warren carried a flag promoting President Donald Trump as he walked toward the Capitol.
“Check your Constitution," McIntosh said of his message to people not understanding the event.
“Every time they take a little, they never give it back," he added about individual rights.
Asked if he was concerned about the virus spreading during the event, he said he wasn't.
"I think if we were in a little more close contact, if we were inside, I might be a little bit more concerned about it," McIntosh said. “But everybody is keeping enough distance."
Separately, counter protesters have canceled a demonstration because there was "no request for protection from state reps" in need of escort to and from the Capitol premise, according to the Facebook event page "Stand Up to Rightwing Extremists and White Supremacy."
Priorities Michigan criticized President Donald Trump for egging on the protesters with his post-protest tweets, including one saying "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" The protesters represent a "small minority" of residents who oppose Whitmer's executive orders.
"It’s a shame that, while the vast majority of Michiganders support Gov. Whitmer’s handling of the outbreak, Trump has used his platform to back a combative group that risks not only their lives but the lives of countless other Michiganders," said Annika Doner, outreach director for Priorities Michigan, a liberal super political action organization that backs Democratic office holders and candidates.
State police and Nessel said Wednesday they are prepared to enforce the law among protesters, including cracking down on individuals who brandish weapons in a threatening manner and any who resist and obstruct police.
Neither the Senate nor the House will be in session Thursday, effectively closing the Capitol to protesters.
The protest occurs exactly two weeks after hundreds of protesters, some carrying firearms, protested inside the Capitol. The protesters chanted "let us in" in front of a line of Michigan State Police troopers barring access to the House chamber while session continued. Some of those protesting carried firearms in the Capitol and into the Senate gallery above lawmakers during session.
But during Thursday's rally, some protesters brought their families.
Jeff Harris of Holly was accompanied by his two sons, Justine and Patrick, who waved small American flags.
“This is tyranny. She’s a tyrant,” Harris said about Whitmer.
He said he originally agreed with Whitmer’s decision to close businesses but said it’s long past time to reopen them.
“People need to work," Harris said. "We need to make money."